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Issue Of Self-Determination Avoided: U.N. Working Group On Indigenous Populations

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      SEPTEMBER 1982      v12 n07 p19  
The first meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations was held between August 9th and 13th in Geneva, Switzerland. Representatives from invited indigenous organizations met the Group at the headquarters of the Human Rights Commission.

As far as the Indian Nations are concerned, there is a disappointment that the Group should be called by the Human Rights Commission, instead of, for example, by the Committee on Decolonization. The fact that it is called to study "Indigenous Populations" as opposed to "Indigenous Peoples" also indicated in advance that it would be hesitant about considering political matters such as self determination and would concentrate on social, economic and cultural standards. The term "Indigenous Peoples" is used in international law to describe a group that is eligible for self-determination. In fact, confirmed Clem Chartier of the NCC who attended the meeting last week, the Working Group made a conscious decision that it did not want to look at this aspect as far as it could be avoided.

The members of the Working Group were appointed by the Human Rights Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. This subcommission has already set up working groups on Slavery and Missing People. Sitting on the Group on Indigenous Populations are: Asbjorn Eider of Norway, Nassar Kaddour of the Syrian Arab Republic, Mohammed Yusef Mudawi of Sudan, Mr. Ritter of Panama and Ivan Tosvevski of Yugoslavia: they were appointed on their reputation as Human Rights experts. For the first two and half days they discussed the standards they would use to review the fundamental rights and freedoms, the protection of values and cultures and economic and social development. They would look at these in terms of "real life" situations.

Invited to attend were representatives of governments and they came from Australia, Brazil, India, Nicaragua, Canada and the United States; specialized agencies such as the International Labour Organization; Government Agencies; and the three indigenous organizations who have Non-Government Organization status at the United Nations. The World Council of Indigenous People received such status in 1975, the International Indian Treaty Council (mainly AIM) received NGO status about seven years ago, and the Indian Law Resource Centre received NGO status about a year and half ago, and represents traditional Indian Governments in the United States. Clem Chartier, Smoky Bruyere and Salvador Palomino Flores, representing the South American region of WCIP, represented the WCIP.

The priority mandate of all three groups was to stress that very urgent action be taken by the United Nations to stop the massacre of the Indian people in Guatemala. Whole villages are being destroyed; Indian men, women and children brutally murdered by Government forces. All gave presentations on the "real life situation" in Guatemala.

They also strongly supported the standards drawn up by the Indian Law Resource Centre. However as these dealt with self-determination, the Working Group again took a conscious decision not to make any decision on them, merely to attach them as an appendix in their final report.

The FSI sent a telegram to the working group, with concrete suggestions on how the Group could help establish Indian Rights in Canada. The telegram was reproduced and given to people to look at but the contents were not added to the agenda. Towards the end of the meeting, a submission was presented by the WCIP on behalf of all three indigenous groups. The main points were that

The Working Group responded that they would not be making any hard and fast resolutions but that the submission would be duly annexed to their report to the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. It promised to reproduce it but not necessarily to endorse it.

The final report will be presented to the Sub-Commission at the beginning of September and we should have information of its contents and recommendations for our next issue.

(From the files of Clem Chartier, lawyer, representing the WCIP at the meeting).